It's widely acknowledged that American new play development has floundered over the past few decades.There's been a national conversation about the preponderance of timid theatrical institutions that, despite their best intentions, engender tepid plays.But there are a number of smart and scrappy exceptions to this rule, and Clubbed Thumb is one of the smartest and scrappiest.For 15 years Clubbed Thumb has built a dazzling reputation among adventurous theatergoers and theater practitioners as the go-to producer of the most exciting and audacious new American plays.I've been lucky enough to be the beneficiary of their producing energy not once, but twice.
Bold, curious, frank, unfettered by convention or fidelity to what may have worked in the past, interest in plays' for plays' sake—these are the hallmarks of Clubbed Thumb’s approach.The cleverly designed SuperLab series combines this ethos with the resources, reputation and infrastructure of another famously playwright-centered institution, Playwrights’ Horizons.So when Maria Striar invited me to bring my new play SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND into the SuperLab series I jumped at the chance.
The development goal of the SuperLab is not to make plays different or "better,” but more of themselves, more fundamentally and fully what they set out to be in the first place. The focus, as with all Clubbed Thumb's work, is on the playwright and her questions about her work. The architecture of time and space are writer directed, from the scheduling of the week as a whole to the pace and purpose of every rehearsal hour.This intense writer focus is something lots of theaters talk about, but Clubbed Thumb actually makes happen in a peerless way.
The result was a huge leap forward for my play.A script that went into the SuperLab week as a promising collection of scenes cohered into a leaner, funnier comedy with the act break in an inspired new place (thanks to Maria Striar's hands-on dramaturgy) and about eight new scenes' worth of material.The intensity and abandon of the writing time made possible by the SuperLab structure was precious to me; the progress I was able to make on the work was crucial to the play's future life.I can only wish the same experience for every other playwright I know.